EXPLAINED: How to drink wine like a Swiss

When foreigners think of ‘typically’ Swiss foods, cheese and chocolate naturally come to mind. Not many people know, however, that Switzerland is also a wine producing (and drinking) nation.

With little practice, you’ll master the art of drinking wine like the Swiss do. Photo by Zan on Unsplash
With little practice, you’ll master the art of drinking wine like the Swiss do. Photo by Zan on Unsplash

Many people abroad have no clue that Switzerland produces its own wines because, unlike cheese and chocolate, wine is not widely exported.

In fact, Switzerland exports only 1 percent of its wine. As a comparison, neighbours Italy and France sell abroad 20.8 percent and 13.6 percent of their wine production respectively – including to Switzerland.

The reason is that Switzerland’s 1,500 vintners in six wine-growing areas (Geneva, German-speaking Switzerland, Ticino, Vaud, Valais, and Three Lakes region), barely yield enough grapes to satisfy the domestic demand, much less quench the thirst of other nations.

This is where Swiss wine regions are located. Image: Switzerland Tourism

More than 250 varieties of grapes grow in Switzerland. The most popular is Chasselas (white) — a 12th-century native Swiss variety that originated on the shores of Lake Geneva.

It is still the most dominant grape of the Vaud region, where it makes up 61 percent of the total production. It’s  grown widely in the other Swiss wine regions  as well, including in Valais, where it is known as Fendant.

Chasselas is also the main grape in Switzerland’s most famous (and spectacularly picturesque) wine-growing area of Lavaux in Vaud. The terraced vineyards sloping into Lake Geneva were recognised in 2007 as the UNESCO World Heritage site.

The terraced vineyards of Lavaux. Photo: Région du Léman

Other popular varieties include Pinot Noir, Gamay, Merlot, Humagne Rouge, Arvine, Savagnin Blanc, Gamaret, Garanoir, Pinot Gris and, in Ticino, Merlot.

What wine do the Swiss like to drink most?

Like everything else in Switzerland, it depends on the canton. Or rather, on the town / village where people live — a reflection of grassroots patriotism so prevalent in this country.

As so many communities produce their own wines from local grapes, residents tend to favour regional wines, though they sometimes do buy bottles “imported” from other areas of Switzerland.

What you should know about wine drinking in Switzerland

You will probably notice that corks pop as soon as at least two people get together, often regardless of what time of the day or night it is.

If you are not a wine aficionado, you may have problems making friends in Switzerland (of course, you could have problems making friends anyway, but that’s an entirely different topic).

In fact, if you refuse a glass of wine without immediately offering medical reasons, you will be eyed suspiciously by the Swiss.

That’s because wine is not only an integral part of social interactions, but a bonding experience as well, which can’t be replicated by drinking, say, a Coke or mineral water.

This is what you should know to fit in

Not surprisingly, given how Swiss people are sticklers for the rules, there is a certain etiquette involved in wine drinking.   

To many Swiss people, French wines are, needless to say, inferior (as everything French is), and don’t even try to sell them on Italian or Spanish wines. They will, literally and figuratively, turn up their noses at them. That’s the first point.

Secondly, but just as importantly, if you drink with a Swiss friend, you don’t shout “bottoms up”, then unceremoniously chug your wine down and ask for more. You have to hold your glass by the stem, look into your friend’s eyes, preferably without blinking, for at least five seconds, then clink your glasses.

Only then can you sip your wine, praising its fragrance, aroma, depth of colour, and the Swiss region it came from.

A couple of interesting facts about Swiss wine:

  • Switzerland has the smallest vineyard in the world (you didn’t expect it to have the largest, did you?)
    Saillon, in Valais, measures 1.6 square-metres and has been owned by the Dalai Lama since 1999. 
  • It also boasts Europe’s highest vineyard. Below the village of Visperterminen, also in Valais,  lies Europe’s highest vineyard at an elevation of between 650m and 1,150m above sea level.

Cheers to that!

 EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland so obsessed with cheese?


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Can a Swiss landlord charge a fee if you renounce to rent an apartment?

Say you signed a registration for a flat in Switzerland, but then changed your mind. What, if any, fees are you liable for if you decide to withdraw your application?

Can a Swiss landlord charge a fee if you renounce to rent an apartment?

In some areas of Switzerland, good and reasonably priced rental properties are difficult to come by, so once you find one, you hold on to it for dear life.

But it can also happen that you change your mind for whatever reason and no longer want to proceed with the rental.

What happens then?

Some rental agencies’ registration forms include a clause stating that if you cancel after a contract has been prepared, you have to pay between 150 and 200 to cover administration costs — even if the contract hasn’t yet been signed.

This is ostensibly for all the time and effort that went into preparing the lease.

If you are unfamiliar with Swiss laws, you may feel a duty to pay these fees, believing that if you don’t, Swiss rental police will knock on your door.

But you can relax: apart from the fact that there’s no such thing in Switzerland as “rental police”, you don’t owe the agency or landlord anything.

That is because registrations and applications of any kind —  including those for rental properties — are non-binding until both parties have signed them. Up to this point, an application can be withdrawn without incurring any costs, even if the agency / landlord have you believe otherwise.

READ MORE: REVEALED: The six major Swiss cities where rents are falling

Why are landlords / rental agencies engaging in this practice?

To be fair, not all of them will attempt to make you pay for failing to sign the lease. Those who do are hoping you don’t know your legal rights, especially if you are a foreigner who (they hope) is still green behind the ears when it comes to rental regulations in Switzerland.

However, according to the official site of canton of Geneva (but this rule applies nationally), some exceptions could be admissible.

If applicants are not acting in “good faith” — for instance, by belatedly expressing their refusal to sign the lease and delaying the rental process while other potential tenants are kept waiting —  the landlord could ask to be compensated.

This is not a clear black-and-white situation though, as “good faith” calls for subjective judgements, ones that the landlord or rental agency could not make unless they have proof that candidates’ actions were dishonest — which is also difficult to prove.

But even in this case, the landlord “could only invoice his actual costs: the costs of drafting the lease contract and sending it out, for example”, according to the Swiss Tenants Association (ASLOCA).

You should also inform yourself about what your landlord can and cannot demand of you.

“You have to remember that just because something is written in the lease doesn’t mean it’s true”, ASLOCA said.

“Lease law is protective of the tenant and takes into consideration that the latter does not necessarily have the possibility or the resources to read and carefully negotiate any clause of his lease”.

If uncertain of what your rights and obligations are, this official government site provides useful information and  resources, including who, in your canton of residence, can help in case of a dispute with your landlord.

READ MORE: Tenant in Switzerland? Here’s how to apply for a rent reduction